Are robots the solution to the problem of affordable Jewish education?
Well, maybe not actual robots, but rather the 21st century equivalent: web-based online learning. If Scott Goldberg is to be believed, distance learning has the potential “both to increase the quality of education and also enhance efficiency and affordability.”
In fact, Goldberg, who heads Yeshiva University’s Institute for University-School Partnership, sees online learning as one of four “critical approaches” to making day school education affordable.
Two of these approaches will raise little controversy: increased fundraising and improved budgeting.
The third approach Goldberg advocates is to increase government support of day school education. Such efforts are on firmer legal ground in the wake of this month’s Supreme Court decision approving a controversial Arizona law granting tax rebates of up to $500 for donations to private school scholarship funds.
But can online learning deliver tangible benefits to the day school system?
Goldberg insists so.
“In the online system,” said Goldberg, “there’s greater efficiency because in many cases the online platform provides an ongoing feedback loop for both students and faculty. It is a way to maintain quality and perhaps improve quality while being able to reduce costs.”
At the YU Partnership, “We already use online learning to train teachers and we are expecting to launch classes for students soon, most likely starting with some high school Judaic classes.”
Goldberg said online systems, such as K12.org and ALEKS, are already being used in Jewish schools in Denver, Houston, and Memphis.
As schools take increasingly hard looks at their expenses, such innovations will spread, he said.
At the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education, Executive Director Joshua Elkin agrees that class sizes may be on the rise.
“Class size needs to be looked at and in some cases bumped up a bit,” said Elkin, citing thinking in non-Jewish private school circles “to have economies and keep tuitions at the lowest possible level.”